UPDATE: “Saving Hubble” – February 9, 2016 Movie & Lecture

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

The Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton is pleased to announce that immediately before the regular February meeting we will show the film “Saving Hubble” in Peyton Hall. The film is 70 minutes long. The showing will begin promptly at 6:00 PM. Since this is close to the dinner hour, the club will provide a light meal (think pizza and beverages). For this reason, the meet-the speaker dinner is canceled for February. Please join us for the screening, or the regular lecture and club meeting at 7:30 PM.

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From the Director

by Rex Parker, Director




Upcoming events and ideas for AAAP members

  • Night-sky refresher at Planetarium
  • Changing of equipment at the Observatory
  • Software tools for your consideration

A Rare Opportunity for AAAP Members ONLY
Night-sky refresher at the Planetarium – Yes, hands-on astronomy can be done right  despite the light pollution that we all lament!  AAAP is offering a “night sky refresher” opportunity for members wishing to better understand which deep sky objects are visible over the seasons, how to find and identify them, and how to more effectively show them to others. We’ll utilize the considerable strengths of the planetarium along with the expert knowledge of planetarium staffer and AAAP member Bill Murray. Depending on member participation, one or more dates are being arranged in the near future. We need your input, so please take this survey to help us determine best dates for the planetarium sessions.  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/VDM9QZT

Take Advantage of the New Celestron-14 to Add Photography to Your Observing Skills
Changing equipment at the Observatory – We’re anxious to unveil the new Celestron-14 telescope now installed at the observatory (see photos in this issue). The advantage of the new telescope is Fastar capability.  Fastar is a design invented by Celestron where the secondary mirror is swapped for a special lens and camera mount to allow CCD imaging from the front end of the scope. This results in a very fast focal ratio (f/2.3) which gives a wide field and shorter exposure times for astrophotography, making the whole endeavor easier. We’ll be discussing how to take advantage of this, potentially acquiring a Fastar lens and an appropriate camera later this spring;  you could also use your own camera.  For a taste of what can be done in astrophotography, have a look at the website I recently developed to display my own deep sky images obtained right here in central New Jersey over the past year or two. (http://rexparkerpixels.com/)

The club’s original C-14 telescope had been at our observatory since the millennium turned, a source of pride to members and a wonder to thousands of visitors through the years.  Fittingly, it was sold this month to the North Jersey Astronomy Group, a well-established astronomy club with connections to Montclair State University. With NJAG, the telescope will continue its productive life for New Jersey amateur astronomers and public outreach.

In Search of Something in the Sky?
Software tools for your consideration – Even experienced astronomers need better tools to figure out which celestial objects are visible or best positioned on any given date and time. A number of good software programs are available to help do this.  Software Bisque’s TheSkyX is a truly outstanding planetarium and telescope control program that keyholders are familiar with, as TheSky v6 is currently in use at the observatory. Another program I would like to see more members using is SkyTools3, produced by Skyhound of Cloudcroft, NM.  SkyTools has an extensive database and integrates the core tasks of observation planning, charting, real time observing, and logging into a single tool. No matter the level of expertise, this program lets you get more out of observing, minimizing time spent at the computer and maximizing time under the night sky. There are different levels and costs of the software available.  Let me know if you’re already using this program. If you aren’t, I highly recommend you check it out on-line:  http://www.skyhound.com/order.html

In the News
Ancient Babylonians figured Jupiter’s position through integral calculus.  The current media fanfare about five planets in the early morning sky sets the stage for a remarkable archaeo-astronomy discovery which made the cover of Science this month (M. Ossendrijver, Science 351, issue 6272, Jan 29 2016).  Dr Ossendrijver of Berlin’s Humboldt University, an astrophysicist turned historian, studied clay tablets from the 4th century BCE with weekly pilgrimages to the British Museum’s vast collection of Babylonian cuneiform tablets. A few tablets prescribed the drawing of trapezoidal figures along with a reference to Jupiter, which Babylonians favored as vehicle of their patron god Marduk. As described in the Science commentary on the paper, Ossendrijver received from a colleague photos of an uncatalogued tablet that seemed to depict some kind of astronomical calculation.  Alone in his office a few months later, he realized the blurry photos showed inscriptions identical to the trapezoid inscriptions he’d been studying.  He concluded that the trapezoid calculations were a tool for determining Jupiter’s displacement each day along the ecliptic over 60 days from when the planet first appears in the night sky before dawn.  This is when Jupiter’s apparent motion slows due to the combination of its orbit and earth’s, so that a graph of apparent velocity vs time slopes downward and the area under the curve is a trapezoid. The area under the curve gives the distance Jupiter moved along the ecliptic during the 60 days. This was the true “Eureka!” moment for Dr Ossendrijver, as he realized the ancient Babylonian astronomer-scribes had used the basic calculus operation of the integral nearly two thousand years before Newton and Gottfried!

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Saving Hubble – Feb. 9, 2016 Lecture

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

Filmmaker David Gaynes

Filmmaker David Gaynes

The February meeting will be held on the 9th at 7:30 PM in Peyton Hall on the Princeton University campus. The talk will be by award-winning filmmaker David Gaynes regarding his documentary film “Saving Hubble”. For background on the film please see http://www.savinghubble.com/about/. Please note that the meeting will not be a showing of the film due to time restrictions. Rather David will share his experiences making the film.

Please refer to the UPDATE for details regarding a pre-meeting showing of the film.

 “Saving Hubble” (2012) is David’s second feature length documentary and is a fresh and original telling of the Hubble Space Telescope story, exploring the cultural, political, and spiritual significance of Hubble in addition to the telescope’s scientific importance. Of specific interest to the film is the chapter in Hubble history that began in 2004 with the proposed (and ultimately unsuccessful) cancellation of the telescope. The film tracks Hubble’s fight for survival, documenting the unexpected and transformational grassroots movement that led to its eventual reinstatement and servicing by space shuttle astronauts in Spring 2009.

David Gaynes is an independent filmmaker whose work has been presented theatrically around the world. He recently completed his third feature length documentary, Next Year Jerusalem, which tells the story of eight frail elders who leave the comfort and security of their nursing home to make one final pilgrimage. Keeper of the Kohn (2005), his debut feature, is the story of an autistic man caring for a dying friend and won awards at film festivals across the country, was seen on public television and can be viewed on Hulu. David is an accomplished documentary cinematographer, having photographed the award-winning All Me: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert (2011) among other films.

A trailer and additional information about the film are available at the Saving Hubble website: http://www.savinghubble.com.

Prior to the meeting, there will be a meet-the-speaker dinner at Winberies, Palmer Square in Princeton at 5:45PM. This is 15 minutes earlier than the usual start time. If you wish to attend please email program@princetonastronomy.org no later than noon on February 9.

The meet-the-speaker dinner is cancelled. Please refer to the UPDATE for details regarding a pre-meeting showing of the film.

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Online Astronomy Training

by Michael Wright

Blue Moon by Member Robert Vanderbei

Blue Moon by Robert Vanderbei

The Internet has made delivering training courses easy for teachers and professors so that students and adult learners now have many options in addition to books for studying their chosen topic. This is true for astronomy too. Any amateur astronomer that would like to brush up on the hobby or deepen their knowledge has many options to do it in front of their computer or TV, or even in their car. Here’s a sampling.

CrashCourse – Astronomy – This collection of 46 videos produced and hosted by Phil Plait, author of the “Bad Astronomy” book and blog, is available on YouTube. These entry-level presentations cover everything that a beginner needs to get started in the hobby including naked eye observing, telescopes, the solar system, deep sky objects and cosmology. Thanks to John Miller for suggesting this video set.

Udemy – This astronomy for beginners course is presented by Professor Chris Impey of Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. It is intended for beginners and anyone who wants to learn more about recent astronomical discoveries. Thanks to Prasad Ganti for recommending this course.

M42B. Credit: Brian Van Liew

M42B by Brian Van Liew

Astronomy Cast – One can absorb a tremendous amount of knowledge by listening while commuting to work or school. With advent of podcasts, one can download a show on almost any topic to an MP3 player and listen in the car. Twenty minutes of commute time everyday adds up quickly, so before you know it, you’ve completed a semester-long course in astronomy.

Check out Astronomy Cast by Prof. Pamela Gay and Fraiser Cain. Pamela is an assistant research professor of Physics at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Fraiser Cain is the publisher of the Universe Today website.

As of 6/15/2015, 380 excellent podcasts are available on various astronomy topics. The solar system tour were my favorites (episodes 49 to 52, 55 to 57, 59 and 61 to 65). Topics include “The Fermi Paradox: Where Are All the Aliens?”, “Lagrange Points”, “Building a Career in Astronomy”, “How Amateurs Can Contribute to Astronomy” and “A Universe of Dark Energy.” Pick and choose the topics that interest you. Another podcast is available every week or two.

Great Courses offers adult learning courses made up of 30-min video lectures by prominent college professors. The course come on DVDs or streamed online to your computer or iPad. I have not take their astronomy courses, but those that I have taken on other topics are very well presented.

Spiral galaxy Messier 61. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

Spiral galaxy Messier 61. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

If you are really ambitious and would like to earn a degree, Swinburne Astronomy Online (SAO) is a fully online postgraduate degree program in astronomy run by the Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing and the Department of Physics & Astronomy at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. It concentrates on the fundamental concepts of and key issues in contemporary astronomy. According to its website, it is “designed for science educators and communicators, people working in astronomy related fields, amateur astronomers, and anyone with a love of astronomy.”

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Alfonso Churchill

Submitted by David Kaplan

From: Spoon River Anthology (1915) by Edgar Lee Masters

Alfonso Churchill

They laughed at me as “Prof. Moon,”
As a boy in Spoon River, born with the thirst
Of knowing about the stars.
They jeered when I spoke of the lunar mountains,
And the thrilling heat and cold,
And the ebon valleys by silver peaks,
And Spica quadrillions of miles away,
And the littleness of man.
But now that my grave is honored, friends,
Let it not be because I taught
The lore of the stars in Knox College,
But rather for this: that through the stars
I preached the greatness of man,
Who is none the less a part of the scheme of things
For the distance of Spica or the Spiral Nebula;
Nor any the less a part of the question
Of what the drama means.

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Writing a Poem

by David Kaplan

Carl Sandburg was once asked,
“How do you go about writing?”
He said, “I put one word in front
Of another.”
I, on the other hand, once asked
A Nobel Prize–winning astrophysicist,
“How is the orbit of a planet determined?”
He said, “Simple math!”
I wish I had the ability to be as glib
When it comes to finding the right word
To launch into the correct poetic orbit.

For me, writing a poem,
Is not as easy as putting one word
In front of another, and getting from the Earth
To the moon is beyond my comprehension.

Poetry requires, as in all things concise,
An extractor of unnecessary material.
A hand plane as sharp as a well-honed knife.
A set of whetted chisels of assorted sizes,
Sandpaper of finer and finer grit as in jeweler’s rouge.
And words that evoke
Deeper and deeper thought.

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The Trapezium in M42

by Robert Vanderbei

18:53 EST Jan 26, 2016. Starlight Express Trius SX-694 on 10" RCOS at f/9. Ha = 28 mins, OIII = 42 mins, (unguided 15-second subexposures). Richardson-Lucy deconv. Log stretch.

The Trapezium in M42
18:53 EST Jan 26, 2016.
Starlight Express Trius SX-694 on 10″ RCOS at f/9.
Ha = 28 mins, OIII = 42 mins, (unguided 15-second subexposures).
Richardson-Lucy deconv. Log stretch.

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Minutes of the January 2016 AAAP Meeting

by Jim Poinsett, Secretary

  • The speaker for the evening was Frank O’Brien who gave a lecture entitled “Navigating to the Moon – The View from the Apollo Guidance Computer”.
  • Director Rex Parker called the meeting to order at 9:00 pm and talked about where the club is and where it is going:
    • Great presentations by pros and amateurs
    • Access to members knowledge
    • State of the art observatory
    • Public outreach opportunities
  • Projects for 2016
    • Observatory structure improvements
    • Telescope equipment upgrades
    • New website migration
    • Keyholder public outreach astronomy refresher course
    • Astrophotography 101
    • Interesting new field trips
  • Observatory news – the original plan to increase the size of the flap to accommodate additional equipment has been changed to removing the flap entirely and making the south wall solid to the peak. There would be almost no limit on the height of any additional equipment we decided to add.
  • A refresher course in astronomy for keyholders before the new observing season begins is being discussed. Several ideas were listed and discussion will continue at the next meeting.
  • Rex is trying to gauge if there is enough interest to host a basic astrophotography class for club members.
  • A weekly newsletter/update on astronomical events has been suggested for keyholders.
  • Gene Ramsey has made a dustcap for the Mallincam refractor.
  • There was a discussion of the new vs old website. Several suggestions were made and people have been assigned to provide some materials to Surhabi and Mike. More discussion will follow as we hope to go live with it very soon.
  • Two possible field trips were discussed. One was to Goddard Space Center and the other was a late spring/early summer trip to Cherry Springs State park in Pennsylvania.
  • Sidereal Times is going back to a deadline format as the quantity and quality of submissions has dropped significantly.
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“The Martian” and Ernest Shackleton

by Prasad S. Ganti

Actor Matt Damon portrays an astronaut stranded on Mars in the Martian.

Actor Matt Damon portrays an astronaut stranded on Mars in The Martian.

“The Martian” is a science fiction book written by Andy Weir. It was made into a movie starring Matt Damon as a Mark Watney, an astronaut stranded on Mars who was certain to be the first man to die there. The book is written well with lots of details about Mars and space travel to make it realistic enough. The story is very gripping indeed. Equally good was the movie, well made with the assistance of NASA who saw an opportunity to promote travel to Mars to the general public.

The Ares mission involves a group of astronauts riding in a Hermes spacecraft to reach Mars and land on Mars using a Mars Descent Vehicle (MDV). A Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) is already placed there by an earlier mission for departing the Martian surface and reaching the orbiting Hermes. The mission runs into trouble when hit by a fierce Martian storm. Fleeing Mars becomes the only option. In the confusion of the escape, Watney is given up for lost and presumed dead. When he regains consciousness, he finds himself stranded and unable to communicate either with Hermes or with NASA.

This is where a personality of an astronaut becomes important. Mentally tough, with a sense of optimism and hope, and a little bit of humor, he works on survival. The next human mission to Mars is a few years away. The food supplies are likely to last only for a few months. Using his knowledge of botany, he starts growing potatoes in the habitat. He starts getting used to living on a desolate planet using the life support systems, which miraculously escape destruction by the storm. Watney realizes that his only chance of escape is to to travel 2000 miles across to the another part of the planet where another MAV is ready to receive the next human mission to Mars.

In the meantime, NASA detects some human movement on the planet and start tracking his movements. Watney’s dilemma makes good news back on Earth. The rest of the movie is suspenseful and portrays Watney’s and the Hermes crew’s heroics to try and save him.

Incidentally, the mission director at NASA  is named Venkat Kapoor, an odd combination of a south Indian first name and north Indian last name.

Knowing where movies depicting other planets are shot is interesting. The Martian was shot in Wadi Rum in Jordan. Its terrain does resemble the red colored Martian surface. The potato farm was shot in a studio in Budapest where it was built. The recent Star Wars movie was shot in Abu Dhabi (the planet of Jakku). But that is a topic of another blog.

We know of human beings being stranded on Earth in different places, like Ernest Shackleton and his team in Antarctica for 18 months in the early years of the twentieth century. This story is an extension of such incidents to space. Shackleton exhibited great leadership qualities to keep his team intact. He along with a small team ventured 800 miles in choppy seas to reach South Georgia Island and get a rescue ship. This happened around the time of World War I when there were no wireless or satellite radios. Shackleton did not lose even a single man. As a parallel, Shackleton’s 800 mile journey is similar to the 2000 mile journey which Watney undertakes to stay alive. Watney is alone whereas Shackleton had a team. By the same token, Watney is fictitious while Shackleton was real. Fiction thrives on individual heroics while real life needs team work!

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